Doctoral Researcher In Urban Evolutionary Ecology And Education

Helsinki, Finland
04 Sep 2023
End of advertisement period
02 Oct 2023
Academic Discipline
Life sciences, Biological Sciences
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

We (Matthew Nielsen, Pauliina Rautio, and Marjo Saastamoinen) are seeking a PhD researcher for an interdisciplinary PhD-project combining evolutionary ecology and science education to understand adaptive benefits of urban evolution. The candidate will work with local schools to conduct an experiment testing the potential benefits of urban adaptation, while also giving students first-hand experience with the scientific process.

Position description

The PhD researcher will participate in a project studying the adaptive benefits of urban evolution in butterflies, specifically Pieris napi (Green-veined White, Lanttuperhonen). Previous research has demonstrated evolutionary change in the seasonal plasticity of diapause (overwintering) for P. napi populations from Helsinki ( In this project, we will test whether these changes found in Helsinki populations provide an adaptive benefit using a reciprocal transplant experiment, raising offspring of both urban and rural butterflies in both locations.

To conduct these experiments, we plan to work with local schools (grades 5 and 6) in Helsinki and the surrounding rural areas, involving students directly in planning and conducting the experiments. Exploring the potential of urban evolution and classroom research projects is expected to make abstract ideas like evolution and the scientific process more concrete for students. This will allow the project to also grant new insights for science education and for the role of young citizens in science.

The PhD Researcher will also be involved in other projects related to the urban evolution of P. napi and will have the opportunity to incorporate their own research interests into the project.

The position is planned to start by 1 January 2024, but an earlier start date can be arranged. The Doctoral Researcher will be appointed for a fixed-term contract until August 2027. The student will join the Doctoral Programme of Wildlife Biology Research (LUOVA).


I, Matthew Nielsen, am the main PI of the project and will lead the supervision of the PhD candidate. My research focuses on how butterflies adapt to environmental variation and anthropogenic change, particularly climate change and urbanization. I am a new Junior Professor at the University of Bremen in Germany with a joint appointment at the University of Helsinki, where I will also have a small research group (the PhD researcher and one Postdoc). I will spend 1-2 months per year in Helsinki, and the research project will fund visits by the PhD student to Bremen for training and mentoring. At times when we are not in the same place, regular online meetings will be carried out with me and my group in Bremen. As a mentor, I will seek to support your personal and career development and goals. I welcome applicants from all backgrounds. I am queer and intend to build a lab that welcomes and supports people of all genders, races/ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities/disabilities.

The Project is co-supervised by Pauliina Rautio (University of Oulu) and Marjo Saastamoinen (University of Helsinki). Pauliina studies human-animal relations, participation of young people in ecological citizen science, and develops practices and theories of multispecies education. She will help support the education component of the project. Marjo’s research focuses on understanding on how natural populations and communities respond to and potentially cope via adaptive strategies with anthropogenic environmental pressures.  Marjo has a research group with diverse background and expertise at the University of Helsinki that will provide a local home for the PhD candidate. They will be able to join her regular group meetings and get feedback from her and other members of her lab.


Applicants must have a Master’s degree in biology or a related topic before starting the position. The appointee should either already have the right to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki by the start of the appointment or apply for the right and obtain it within the probationary period of six months of their appointment. If the candidate does not already have the right to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki, it must be applied for separately, please see:

For the ecology side of the project, applicants should have a strong interest in global change and/or insects. Statistical and analytical skills will be needed for the project, so applicants should either have prior experience or be willing to learn. Previous experience working with insects in the field or lab is desirable, but not essential. A valid driver’s license is valuable to facilitate field work and classroom visits.

For the education aspects of the project, applicants should at minimum have a basic familiarity with the Finnish school system, and formal teaching training or experience (such as having completed teaching qualifications) is highly desirable. Because of the need to work with school classes, fluency in Finnish is required. The applicant should also be comfortable writing and communicating in English, which is the working language of the research groups.

The starting salary of the doctoral researcher will be based on level 2 of the demands level chart for teaching and research personnel in the salary system of Finnish universities. In addition, the appointee will be paid a salary component based on personal performance. The starting salary of the Doctoral researcher will be ca. 2200-2400 euros/month, depending on the appointee’s qualifications and experience.

The University of Helsinki offers comprehensive services to its employees, including occupational health care and health insurance, unemployment and pension fund, a generous holiday package, sports facilities, and opportunities for professional development. A six-month trial period will be applied.


Applications must contain: 1) Cover letter (at most 2 pages) describing your interest in the position and relevant experience and qualifications, 2) CV, 3) a sample of your academic writing, and 4) contact information for two references (who may be contacted during the review of applications).

All materials should be in English. The academic writing sample could be your Master’s thesis or something else you have already written. It does not need to be the length of a full thesis, and if your thesis is not written in English, it could be a short (~1 page) English-language summary of your thesis work or something else that demonstrates your writing.

Please submit your application using the University of Helsinki recruitment system via the button “Apply now”. Applicants who are employees of the University of Helsinki are requested to leave their application via SAP Fiori.

The University of Helsinki welcomes applicants from a variety of genders, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

The closing date for applications is 2 October 2023 at 23:59 EEST.

Further information

The position: Principal investigator, Junior Professor Matthew Nielsen, or Recruitment system: HR Specialist Harri Hamara, or HR Specialist Mirkka Juntunen, Viikki Campus: Support for international staff: and (International House Helsinki)  

About us

The University of Helsinki is among the leading multidisciplinary research universities in the world. In addition to its 11 faculties, the University includes several independent institutes, some of which are jointly operated with other universities. Some 35,000 students are currently pursuing an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree at the University of Helsinki. The University of Helsinki is an equal employer.

The Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences is Finland’s most high-profile and extensive hub of research and teaching in the field. The Faculty educates experts to meet the needs of universities, research institutes, government, schools and the business sector. The Faculty is comprised of three units or research programmes: Ecosystems and Environment, Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, and Molecular and Integrative Biosciences.

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